Stories of Pride: Andrew Stier
In celebration of Pride Month, SPIE spoke with members of our community about their experiences as LGBTQ+ scientists in optics and photonics as well as within the greater STEM community. Our fourth conversation is with Andrew Stier (he/him) who holds a doctorate in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin.
Andrew specializes in supervised machine learning and deep learning, and his graduate research applied these techniques to sub-diffuse spatial frequency domain imaging. He has worked for Twitter and is now a data scientist at Microsoft. In his free time, he enjoys creating comedy and film, and he co-hosts a podcast about queer representation in media called Rainbow Room.
Is there an LGBTQ+ person in your life who has inspired you?
My improv teacher, Caeriel Crestin, is gay and defaults to playing gay characters when improvising for the sake of authenticity and representation. When he told me this, I realized I always default to playing straight characters. I was so afraid of being put in a box that I overcorrected and downplayed that I was gay, even though I have been out of the closet for years. I have started including more gay characters in my art now, and I try to bring this lesson of not shying away from my authentic self to my everyday interactions as well.
How can allies actively support LGBTQ+ scientists and engineers?
My advisor, Dr. Mia Markey, had an "ally" sticker on her door. Even though my orientation never came up, it was really reassuring to know I had someone so supportive of queer people in my corner. On another note, I really appreciate the employee resource groups for LGBTQ+ people I have been finding in the tech companies I work for. I think more of those in academia could be really helpful so we can feel less like outsiders.
Finally, recruiters can help improve the underrepresentation of LGBTQ+ engineers in their companies and labs by working on more LBGTQ+ targeted outreach for improving their pipeline, and working with associations like oSTEM. Recruiting through existing queer campus/industry groups is especially important since many of us are hesitant to reveal that we're queer on our resumes, making it difficult to take this diversity into consideration at the hiring stage if desired.
What is one piece of advice you can offer the LGBTQ+ scientists and engineers of the future?
You are not alone, and you have more support than you think. Community is so important for handling the ups and downs of undergrad, grad school, and beyond, so work just as hard at securing meaningful friendships as you do with your work. This can mean seeking out and connecting with others in your queer community or opening up more of your authentic self to your lab mates. Keep your head high and know that those of us who have gone before you are rooting for you!
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